Monday 24 November 2014

Survivor Series 2014 review

A few years ago Vince McMahon apparently considered dropping Survivor Series as a concept because of poor pay-per-view sales. Only a passionate plea from Triple, centring on the event’s legacy and place in company history, stopped that from happening. Watching this show you’d probably wonder why he made such a big thing of it. It wasn’t a bad show, but nor was it an especially great one. And this show, more than any Survivor Series in years, needed to be a great one, for all the reasons I’ve discussed in the last month (see here for more).

The twenty-eighth annual Survivor Series began, as WWE pay-per-views tend to, with a hype video for the evening’s main event. It focused on the last month of television, with a particular emphasis on the future. Considering we’d see 55-year-old Sting make his first ever WWE appearance at the end of the show, that rung a particular kind of hollow. That said Seth Rollins was most prominently featured, unsubtly reminding us he had been handpicked by The Authority as the company’s next flagship performer.

The show kicked off with a talky segment. Vince McMahon brought The Authority and John Cena to the ring Vince promo. The purpose of this was to fill up the minutes, rather than to do anything productive. Vince did reveal that if The Authority lost they’d be working at WWE HQ but with no influence on the careers of performers, but really that wasn’t enough to justify ten-plus minutes of natter. It’s something that should have been made clear in the build up to the event.

The first match of the show was the four-way tag title match, the Usos (wearing a pair of fetching 1800s train driver neckerchiefs), Miz and Mizdow, and Los Matadores challenging the Dust Brothers. The early minutes were characterised by Mizdow shtick, which the crowd loved. Both Miz and Stardust teased tags to Mizdow as the crowd chanted for him, earning themselves some loud boos when they denied them what they wanted. Beyond that we got tags every few minutes to give every team a turn in the ring.

The crowd went nuts when Mizdow was finally tagged in by Miz. He didn't get to do much though: Goldust immediately tagged himself in and went to work on a matador.

Basically the match was competent but didn’t really pick up until its closing moments, a real shame considering the fifteen minutes they had to play with, the capability of everyone involved and the immense popularity of Mizdow. It’s not unreasonable to think we should have had something better.

This is the most relevant the tag titles have been in a while.
The closing moments saw the Usos clear the ring and fly over the top rope onto their foes. Stardust followed up with The Falling Star (a springboard butt bump) and Los Matadores lobbed El Torito over the top and then jumped off the turnbuckle. Back in the ring the Dusts and Los Matadores did a stacked suplex spot from the corner. Jimmy Uso followed up with a splash and got thrown from the ring by Miz, who then found himself blind tagged by Mizdow, who got the pinfall and the tag team titles for his team. Miz looked shocked before celebrating with both belts. Mizdow celebrated empty-handed. He did get more cheers than 'The Awesome One' though.

Backstage Adam Rose and his bunny had a fight with some WWE toys to settle their differences. Rose reminded the bunny he was working at kids’ parties before he found him and basically told him to lose. Despite this The Bunny won. Then Titus O'Neil and Heath Slater rocked up to save the skit. They did a little bickering and Rose challenged Slater Gator to a tag match later on the show. Then he and his worshippers (so-called because he claims they think of him as a god) left.

Paige, Cameron, Summer Rae and Layla v Natalya (with ‘Mr Charisma’ Tyson kids), Naomi, Emma, and Alicia Fox was match number two. That WWE can't be bothered to get a bubble machine, hardly the most expensive bit of kit, for Emma's entrance says everything you need to know about her standing in the company.

Paige v Natalya is a singles match I'd like on pay-per-view.
This match was rough in places but it did at least get time to tell a story and everyone was trying their best. Paige looked impressive, a good thing considering she was booked to wind up in a four-on-one position after her team had been picked off by Fox’s team. There was an attempted tease at Paige making a comeback and sweeping through her opposition but ultimately it didn’t happen: she lasted a few minutes before falling to a headscissors driver from Naomi. After the match Kidd leapt on to a turnbuckle in front of Nattie. Because douchebag husbands, am I right?

After a recap of the pre-show and perhaps the most inconsequential expert panel segment ever we got a video recapping the Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose beef. Condensed down into a couple of minutes in which Bray’s magical teleporting can be downplayed it didn’t look bad.

The first few minutes of the match was all about Ambrose countering everything Wyatt tried. 'The Eater of Worlds' eventually turned the tables with an uppercut as Ambrose vaulted the top rope. Ambrose went back on offence after a double clothesline on the outside, bulldogging Wyatt, stealing his upside down corner taunt, and hitting him with a leg drop put. Wyatt fired back with a Uranage suplex, with Ambrose kicking out of the pin that followed and performing a top rope elbow on a standing Wyatt. Seconds later Ambrose was flattened by a loud clothesline.

This could have been the match of the night.
On the outside again Wyatt dropped Ambrose on the ring steps. When that didn't get him a three count Wyatt grabbed a microphone to tell Dean they could have ruled the world together because they're special. Then he grabbed a chair from under the ring. Ambrose grabbed it first, leading to a standoff with Bray basically telling Dean to go for it and the referee telling him not to. ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ decided to use the chair, giving Wyatt a tap to the gut and then Dirty Deeds.

After he'd been disqualified Ambrose got a table from beneath the ring and elbow dropped Wyatt through it. He then piled chairs and tables on top of Wyatt and posed on top of it (we’d find out just before the main event that Wyatt and Ambrose would clash in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at TLC). The crowd gave the post-match shenanigans more of a response than the match itself. It’s understandable but it still harmed the actual match a little.

I wasn’t a fan of the finish. DQ finishes are necessary for prolonging feuds sometimes, I get that. But they shouldn't happen on PPV. Certainly not in such an openly lazy fashion. It wasn't clear why Ambrose responded so violently, beyond the fact that everyone seems to do it when Bray tries to recruit them. It just felt like something slapped together to set up the TLC match rather than something designed to satisfy the live and home audiences.

Backstage Triple H and Steph gave Team Authority a pep talk. ‘The Game’ promised them more title matches, money and fame. When Steph spoke she quickly became desperate, wailing that they couldn't lose. Trips quickly shushed her and gave every member of the team a reason to win. It was a good segment with a logical, self-contained story. It did go on a bit though.

Adam Rose and The Bunny versus Slater Gator helped the show chug towards its conclusion after that. They did a decent job. The match benefited from not having a lengthy slot to fill. They told a simple story: Rose got worked over before tagging out to The Bunny, who made short work of Slater and O'Neil before pinning Slater as Rose held out his hand for a tag. The Bunny then got carried backstage by the entourage as Rose looked stunned in the ring.

Roman Reigns was then introduced to speak to the commentary team via satellite. He made some token mention of how he was getting stronger and referenced the main event. The most relevant thing he said was that he’ll be back in a month. We can believe that, apparently.

We were shown Team Cena backstage. Dolph and Ryback spoke about it being a big night as Rowan played about with a Rubik's cube. Cena said he'd do everything he could for the team, all of whom were facing unemployment if they lost (although Cena wasn’t for some reason). Ziggler said he'd do everything he could to make sure he survived, which seemed like it was designed to tease him turning on Cena. Show said they all knew what they signed up for. Ryback said it was feeding time and he was hungry. Cena said there was one thing left to do. Then Rowan stood up and said "win." It was laughably bad stuff, basically. Everyone trotted out stock phrases and swore allegiance to babyfacedom.

But who's side is Brie Bella on?!
The penultimate bout saw Nikki Bella challenge Divas champion AJ Lee for the title. I say bout like they actually wrestled. Which isn’t true. After the opening bell Brie Bella clambered onto the apron holding the Divas title belt. AJ confronted her and Brie kissed her. Then Nikki punched the champ in the back of the head, dropped her with a Rack Attack, and pinned her to win the strap. Brie clapped and joined Nikki in her celebrations, setting up the next stage of the overly long Bella sisters saga for the following evening's RAW.

Everyone in the main event was treated to individual entrances, for no other reason than it fills up the minutes and WWE had minutes to spare. I noticed during Ziggler's entrance that he's no longer doing his hip wiggle. Maybe Nikki Bella complained about him stealing her bit?

This was the match that WWE had concentrated on the most in the weeks before the show, the match that they were counting on to draw people in. While I hadn’t agreed with their decision to not promote a balanced card that could give people numerous reasons to sign up to the Network (if they live in a country where they can, of course) I did at least understand it from a storyline perspective. Creative felt the need to freshen things up and do a big, enticing stipulation that they would allow them to promise a brand new day.

While it wasn’t the best Survivors match I’ve ever seen it also wasn’t the worst. It was given a tonne of time to tell a story and every elimination was made to mean something. It was the best thing on the show and easily as good as it needed to be.

I won’t attempt to cover everything that happened. Instead here are some edited highlights…

Solid booking, this.
Mark Henry was eliminated immediately with a WMD from Big Show. It was a good call, getting someone out of the way early, eliciting a big reaction from the audience, and positioning 'The World's Largest Athlete' as a huge obstacle to overcome. There was a loud reaction for a Rowan and Harper standoff, which was promising. Rollins got enormous heat when he tagged himself in on Harper.

Rusev and Ryback got a loud response when they squared off too. Surprisingly Ryback was booked to get the best of the Bulgarian before a shmoz broke out, culminating in Rollins Curb Stomping Ryback and Rusev pinning him. Ziggler tagged in for the first time shortly after that and spent the next several minutes getting worked over. That culminated with Rusev power bombing him onto a gaggle of match participants at ringside and trying to splash him through the Spanish announce table. Ziggler rolled out of the way and got back into the ring just before the ten count, avoiding a count out elimination. Rusev wasn’t so lucky: he was thrown out from the match when he was unable to return.

Back in the ring Ziggler finally tagged out to Cena, who quickly hit Kane with an AA. Rollins dashed in and Curb Stomped him before he could manage a cover though. Rowan and Harper got their moment in the sun shortly thereafter. The crowd reacted to it again. WWE could do a lot worse than Harper versus Rowan singles match at TLC, a good thing considering that’s probably their plan. Following interference from Kane and a flying knee from Rollins, Harper got a discuss clothesline on his former teammate to send him to the back.

Then the first major shock happened. As Ziggler lay unconscious on the outside Show and Cena squared off with Harper, Kane and Rollins… and Show lamped Cena with his WMD. Rollins immediately went for the cover and got the pin, shockingly eliminating Cena from the match. Yep, Big Show turned again. It’s impossible to be surprised at this point. I wrote before the show that a turn from ‘The World’s Largest Athlete’ wouldn’t be a surprise because his career has been characterised by turns back and forth. We’re at the point here it means nothing.

That said there was at least a reason to it here beyond “Hey, we need some more heels on the roster.” Show saw the tide turning against his team and reasoned that if he laid out Cena and got himself counted out he’d be handing The Authority a victory and they’d waive his firing.

Show’s betrayal (which I really wish Jim Ross had been around to call) left Ziggler alone to face Kane, Harper and Rollins. He was triple teamed for the next few minutes before getting a flash super kick and a Zig Zag on Kane to eliminate him. More punishment came his way at the hands of Luke Harper. ‘The Show Off’ took a suicide dive and a sitdown power bomb before getting a flash rollup for another elimination.

Which left him alone with Seth Rollins. Two counts for Ziggler off a small package and a DDT brought the crowd to their feet, as did a buckle bomb from Rollins. A top tope Curb Stomp missed, allowing Ziggler to get a Fameasser for another rousing two count. Ziggler fought off Mercury and Noble interference and dropped Rollins with a Zig Zag, only for Tripper to yank the referee out of the ring. Ziggler fought off more Noble and Mercury interference, Stephanie fell off the apron onto Triple H, and Rollins got a buckle bomb. A Curb Stomp missed and Ziggler's pin after a Zig Zag was again broken up by 'The King of Kings.

Triple H then got into the ring and gave Ziggler a Pedigree. He dragged Rollins on top of him and then signalled for another new official. Crooked ref Scott Armstrong came out to count the pin but got distracted two thirds of the way through by the entrance of Sting.

‘The Stinger’ sauntered to the ring looking every day of his 55 years then had a staredown with Triple H. It was a long staredown. Like, a really long staredown. Uncomfortably so, in fact. The crowd chanted "This is awesome!" They were wrong. Very wrong. It was tedious.

He's finally signed. And I don't care.
Eventually Triple H threw a punch. Sting ducked it and gave him the Scorpion Death Drop. Then he put Ziggler atop Rollins and a rejuvenated referee that wasn’t Scott Armstrong counted the pin. Rollins didn't kick out, even though he and Ziggler had both been selling for over five minutes. Still, it was great to see Ziggler as the man working the majority of the match for his team and getting the deciding pinfall fifteen minutes after Cena had been eliminated. Cena coming out to hug him afterwards could have been taken as destruction but in this particular instance, with what was on the line and the way Ziggler had been positioned, it made perfect sense.

Once Ziggler and Cena had headed backstage the crowd jeered The Authority as they sold the loss in the ring. Stephanie screamed it wasn't over and then three a fit to take the show off the air. Unfortunately I think she's probably right. WWE have had too much success with the heel authority figure shtick over the years to try something new. We'll get something fresh for a while but they'll return to their comfort zone eventually.

There are two things we need to ask about Survivor Series: was it good enough to convince people they should stick with the WWE Network for at least one more month and was it a satisfying experience in its own right? My answer to the first question would be no. They were clearly hoping the debut of Sting and the post-match antics of Wyatt and Ambrose would be enough to convince people to stick with the Network through TLC but I don’t think that’s enough. Sting won’t wrestle and while I’m sure Wyatt and Ambrose are capable of a strong TLC bout that match alone isn’t sufficient reason to see the show.

The quality of the overall card is what WWE should have focused on. They were hampered by a few injuries but they still could have put on a distinctly average show. They didn't. Is an Adam Rose match really something they feel can help them grow their subscriber numbers? A more balanced card was clearly the way to go. What they lined up and how poorly it turned out proves that.

Taken on its own merits the show was average. The main event was, as already stated, as good as it needed to be. Sting debuting will excite many people. But nothing else on the show was especially memorable, even the Mizdow title win. There have been worse WWE shows, but few with the stakes being so high. This was WWE’s chance to convince people that paying $9.99 a month for a pay-per-view is a great investment, and they failed.

Now let’s see what that plucky young upstart Sting does on RAW, shall we?

Results summary:
The Miz and Damien Mizdow won the tag team championship
Natalya, Naomi, Emma and Alicia Fox defeated Paige, Cameron, Summer Rae and Layla
Bray Wyatt defeated Dean Ambrose via disqualification
Adam Rose and The Bunny defeated Slater Gator
Nikki Bella defeated AJ Lee for the Divas championship
Team Cena defeated Team Authority

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